This is an easy book to like, and it's certainly been popular since its publication a few years ago -- it's also going to be a film. I was as entranced as many other readers including some of my friends. The central character, Kya, is abandoned as a child and learns to take care of herself and live in the wooded marshes of coastal North Carolina. Her shelter is a primitive cabin with very few modern comforts. She discovers how to live self-sufficiently, gathering mussels and other shell fish to sell to a sympathetic shopkeeper in the local town of Barkley Cove for basic food (mainly grits) and for fuel for her boat and her kerosene lamps. She gathers and cultivates vegetables to eat with her grits and shellfish.
"Maybe it was mean country, but not an inch was lean. Layers of life—squiggly sand crabs, mud-waddling crayfish, waterfowl, fish, shrimp, oysters, fatted deer, and plump geese—were piled on the land or in the water. A man who didn’t mind scrabbling for supper would never starve." (p. 8).
A big contrast between her life and that of the other local residents is in the food they eat. For example, the town contrasts to her marshland home:
Over time, Kya learns to use the resources of the marsh around her home. She becomes a self-taught naturalist, and the book's descriptions of the natural world of birds, flowers, grasses, mushrooms, and marsh residents are delightful and beautiful. She's wary of other human beings, but not too much. On the surface, it's a beautiful story as it develops, though there are dark forces at work (but no spoilers here).
"A full bank of windows, framed by hurricane shutters, covered the front of the Barkley Cove Diner, which overlooked the harbor. Only the narrow street stood between the building, constructed in 1889, and the soggy steps of the village pier. Discarded shrimp baskets and wadded-up fishing nets lined the wall under the windows, and here and there, mollusk shells littered the sidewalk. Everywhere: seabird cries, seabird dung. The aroma of sausage and biscuits, boiled turnip greens, and fried chicken thankfully overtook the high smell of fish barrels lining the dock." (p. 61).
"Copying the others, she picked up a tray, a green plastic plate, and flatware. A large window with a counter opened into the kitchen, and laid out before her was an enormous enamel pan of chicken pie crisscrossed with thick, crispy pastry, hot gravy bubbling up. A tall black woman, smiling and calling some of the kids by name, plopped a big helping of pie on her plate, then some pink-lady peas in butter and a yeast roll. She got banana pudding and her own small red-and-white carton of milk to put on her tray." (p. 29).
"She cooked a southern supper as Ma would have: black-eyed peas with red onions, fried ham, cornbread with cracklin’, butter beans cooked in butter and milk. Blackberry cobbler with hard cream with some bourbon Jodie brought." (p. 241).